THE ICG BLOG: WARP FACTORS IN EDUCATION

October 12, 2016
by Peter Gow, ICG Executive Director
(This post originally appeared in the ICG’s October 2016 newsletter; it has been edited and updated for this format.)

In my recent podcast conversation with Tim Fish, the new Chief Innovation Officer at the National Association of Independent Schools, I made reference various forces that can distort schools’ efforts to do things that are best aligned with their own missions and student-focused values. Probably because in my life I have watched too much Star Trek in all its iterations, I referred to these as “warp factors.”

In deep space a warp factor is a measure of speed, but in education a warp factor is an impediment to the kinds of teaching and learning we know to be best; often warp factors are detrimental to the natural and healthy development of children. As educators we recognize warp factors, but it takes the courage of our truest convictions to blunt their impact. To accomplish this we must first acknowledge these warp factors and their potential power, to name and explore them in the context of our aspirations.

What are some of the warp factors affecting our schools? In general terms, I see these as the most egregious and pernicious:

  • Standardized testing holds hegemony over the lives of students at all levels and for too many purposes, few of which have much to do with real instructional improvement.
  • Racism, classism, sexism, and other forms of institutionalized or endemic bias pervade and corrode not only the society in which students live, work, and love but often, too, the cultures of our classrooms and campuses despite our best efforts to note and counteract them. This year, especially, we watch in horror the ongoing “liberation” of hateful words and behaviors from the constraints of common decency in our media and politics.
  • Anxieties—and occasionally frenzy—over selective next-school or college admissions can push schools to programming that panders to superficial expectations at the risk of denying what is best for kids: their physical and mental health, their relationships with friends and family, their ability to identify and nourish their authentic interests, and learning that engages them with the world in which they live.
  • The same anxiety can distort our approach to curriculum and assessment—creating paralysis in the face of clear impetus to change and frightening faculties, administrators, and boards alike away from adhering to their school’s deeply held ideals.

Of course I am biased, but I think of the ICG’s Principles of Independent Curriculum as a rhetorical anodyne against warp factors and even a general blueprint for resistance.

As the year goes forward the Independent Curriculum Group will be engaged in helping schools and educators build their own bulwarks of knowledge. Through webinars, podcasts, events, the ICG Discussion Forums, and our blog, our aim is to foster dialogue and the exchange of ideas and resources that may give us all the courage of our convictions—the courage to do what we know is educationally the right thing for our students within the frameworks of our institutional missions and values.

As we often say, the Independent Curriculum Group is only as strong and effective as the degree of participation in our work. At our office I am one voice, one perspective, but as a community we are ten thousand educators. Your voices, engaged in passionate professional conversations or raised together, can help straighten and hold the course of all or our schools toward the hearts of students and their needs—perhaps even at light speed.

We invite educators and friends of education everywhere as vigorously as we can to start naming and acknowledging the warp factors that distort and distract our best efforts to deliver the educational programs our students and our society need and deserve. And to that end we invite you to become involved in and especially to take advantage of the programs of the Independent Curriculum Group.

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